When I look back now, I realise that I owe everything to Carlo Mazzone and Carlo Ancelotti, the two most important coaches that I've ever had.
Despite not yet having turned 30, Andrea Pirlo is very much a Serie A stalwart. Il Architetto - the architect, as he is known - has made 303 appearances in Italy's top flight, including no fewer than 213 for AC Milan, as well as playing in 77 UEFA Champions League matches.
He made his debut at the tender age of 16 for Brescia on 21 May 1995, and moved on to Inter Milan and Reggina before settling with AC Milan, for whom he has been plying his trade since 2001.
Over the past seven seasons, Pirlo has built up the kind of trophy cabinet that most players can only dream of. On the domestic front, he has won the FIFA Club World Cup (in 2007), two UEFA Champions Leagues (2003 and 2007), two European Supercups (2003 and 2007), a Scudetto (2004), an Italian Supercup (2004) and to round it off, the Italian Cup in 2003. On the international front. Pirlo first represented his country at U-15 level and since then has gone on to win the FIFA World Cup™ in 2006, the European U-21 championship in 2000 and a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. FIFA.com caught up with the Italian legend at the famous Milanello training centre.
You played your first ever Serie A match when you were 16 years and two days old. What do you remember about your debut?
It was a very emotional moment. I didn't feel under any particular pressure because I knew that there would be other matches. Making a name for yourself in clubs who give youth a chance or who are in mid-table is important for a young player. It means that you can play regularly and get some absolutely invaluable experience at that age.
You were an attacking midfielder when you started out, but then Carlo Mazzone and Carlo Ancelotti began to play you further back. How did this change of position affect your career?
I loved playing there. I already used to track back to go and get the ball, so it was easy to adapt. It means that I am right at the heart of what's going on. When I look back now, I realise that I owe everything to Carlo Mazzone and Carlo Ancelotti, the two most important coaches that I've ever had. Under Ancelotti I got right into the role straight away because he trusted me even though he had more experienced players available to him.
You have won a Scudetto, two UEFA Champions Leagues, two UEFA Supercups, a FIFA Club World Cup... After so much club success, what more can you possibly get out of football?
I want to win other trophies. Football is a sport where you always need to have fun, improve and win things. There are titles up for grabs every year, and it's up to us to go out and win them. At Milan I really feel at home at what is the most important club in the world, so I have no desire to go and try out different experiences as I've got all that I need here.
What are the fundamental differences between AC and Inter Milan?
When I was at Inter (1998-1999 and then 2000 - January 2001), it was a club that was searching for its identity. There were a lot of comings and goings and in particular a number of coaches who were relieved of their duties. AC Milan on the other hand has always been a model club in terms of success and also the way it is organised. When I was at Inter, they weren't ready to be on the same level as AC Milan.
Moving on to Italy now. How do you think that the Squadra Azzurra has performed so far in the qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup?
We've got off to a very good start with some important wins. We're currently top of the group and we're looking to stay there to make sure that we qualify directly for South Africa.
What are the differences between the team under Marcello Lippi in 2006 and since he came back in 2008?
The squad in 2006 was a great team made up of players who had proven themselves at the highest level. The team hoping to qualify for 2010 has more players who are journeying into the unknown. You can't really judge the current team yet as it's just building up and starting to show its potential, due in no small part to the enthusiasm that the return of Lippi has created. We need to have the same desire we had in 2006 and above all the same aims, particularly as we all want to put the failure of the last EURO behind us.
What is your secret to all the goals you score from free-kicks?
I've always watched video cassettes of the all-time greats, and then I was lucky enough to play alongside one - Roberto Baggio - who gave me some excellent advice. Finally, there is some natural talent in there and a lot of work obviously goes into it during training sessions.
What is your opinion of football today?
It has changed a lot. All the teams are well organised and competitive these days. There aren't any weaker teams any more and you don't get five or six-goal wins every week as was the case a few years ago. We need to be focussed and give 100 per cent all the time, otherwise we could be in for a surprise.
You come across as someone who is very serious. What is the real Andrea Pirlo like?
I like to have a laugh, enjoy myself and tease other people. Those who don't know me very well don't realise this - either they haven't got to know me well enough or I haven't yet got round to trusting them. With time, they get to find out what I'm really like (to which an AC Milan executive adds with a smile "crazy"). Here at AC Milan though, Gennaro Gattuso is obviously the real joker in the pack.
What hobbies do you have?
I like spending time with my family, with my wife and kids. When I go away for training camps though, I play football video games with Alessandro Nesta. I always play as AC Milan and Nesta picks another team. But the real Pirlo can't be imitated, even on a game console (laughs).
Is there anything else you particularly want to talk about?
I'm sorry, I'm not much of a talker...I already feel like I've been talking too much (laughs).